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Social care and social work: is there an app for that?

In this guest blog, occupational therapist Claire Jones says it’s time to explore the potential for apps to help social care staff and service users… 

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As an occupational therapist now working as a consultant in social media and mental health, I’m fascinated by the interplay between social care and technologies like smartphone applications or “apps”.

 

Lots of apps are now being used in healthcare to promote better self-management of long-term conditions and aid care planning. The Department of Health’s recent #MapsandApps showcase highlighted the popularity of these tools.

Let’s learn from, and build on, health apps

Social care can learn from the apps on show in the health world.  Many harness social media and good old fashioned peer support to help people make better choices, seek appropriate support and collate personally relevant health information.

To take a couple of health examples, the Moodscope app enables people to spot patterns in their mental state, and prompt selected friends to support them appropriately. Applications such as EatSmart help people to learn portion control and address issues related to pre-diabetes and obesity.

So how could apps be used in social care?

Perhaps your service user is in recovery from substance misuse? Innovative services, like this alcohol relapse programme, are being developed that concentrate clinical time on the most urgent need, and provide personalised text message support for all users.

Maybe your service users are having trouble keeping up to date with bill paying? In that case they might be grateful for an app that offers reminder services.

An individual can choose a combination of apps that best suits their needs and circumstances- a truly personalised service.

 

At the moment we regularly offer service users soon to be out-of-date leaflets with information. Soon, telling your service users about apps that could help them could become just as routine a part of our jobs.

 

Acknowledging the digital divide

Despite the potential of apps, we must not forget that there is still a digital divide. Poorer and older and disabled people are less likely to have smartphones than the general population.

But given that mobile phone penetration is approaching 100%, what justification is there to not explore sending text message appointment reminders or supportive texts to a social care service user or carer?

Do we deny our service users information about the available support that’s out there, in these challenging economic times? Do we choose to abandon this area to the app sales and marketing people, simply because it’s an emerging area of practice?

Most issues in the field of social care may be complex. It is unlikely that there’s “an” app for an individual’s entire situation. But, perhaps there are apps out there that we can explore, that can contribute to modern care planning and personalised service delivery?

The Department of Health is already planning the follow up to the #MapsandApps project, explicitly focussing on #CareApps. There is huge potential in this area. It is time we explored it fully.

Claire Jones is an occupational therapist and consultant in social media and digital in health and mental health.

Claire is currently busy planning the first Digital Health Conference and Hack in Leeds on 29th and 30th June. She can be reached via her blog or on Twitter @claireOT.

Image: Yutaka Tsutano (Flickr)

About Andy McNicoll

Andy is community editor at Community Care, with a focus on reporting on mental health. He has previously worked for titles focusing on the NHS and substance misuse sectors. You can contact him at andy.mcnicoll@rbi.co.uk

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